It was a personal best. A nice round 200kph over the speed limit. Dead straight, perfectly surfaced, deserted dual carriageway, not a soul in sight. The limit was 80kph, set that low because of danger from stray camels. But there were no camels within the featureless vista scanned by our hyperactive eyes, so no danger.
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OK, I wasn’t driving at the time. But that doesn’t much lessen the illicit thrill of almost 175mph on a public road that isn’t a German autobahn, especially given the continuing savagery of the acceleration right up to the point of backing off.
The Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren may not be the apogee of the supercar art that its price suggests it should be (how can it be when a Ferrari 599 is better in nearly every way and costs around half as much?), but there are some things it does with panache.
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Besides, the Mercedes-Benz SLR we are driving, is the car that could salvage the model’s reputation. Called (deep breath) the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren 722 Edition, it has been built in response to some existing Mercedes-Benz SLR owners’ desires for ‘more sportiness’. As if 208mph and a 3.8sec 0-62 time weren’t sporty enough already…
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There will be just 150 722s, and instead of costing the usual £317,610 it will relieve you of £334,300. You may already know what the 722 bit means. Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson won the 1955 Mille Miglia road race in an SLR racer bearing the number 722, which denoted the car’s 7.22am start time. Moss drove the whole way himself at an average speed which was never beaten. Today’s Mercedes-Benz SLR has no competition history of its own, but it basks in massive reflected glory.
The extra £17K that makes the 722 difference doesn’t seem, objectively, to buy you much. Most important to the way the 722 drives are the new front splitter, suspension lowered by 10mm and new Koni dampers set 15 per cent stiffer in bump.
The splitter for the Mercedes-Benz SLR increases front downforce by 128 per cent, and the flip-up rear wing (deployed at very high speed or under firm braking) rises up a further five degrees to help balance the new forces. The dampers of the Mercedes-Benz SLR have aluminium casings, which are lighter than the steel shells of the previous Bilsteins, and the new wheels are also lighter to the further benefit of unsprung weight. The brake discs of the Mercedes-Benz SLR are still carbon-ceramic but the front ones are now bigger.
There’s also red detailing for the engine intake tract, brake callipers, upholstery and dials, plus three ‘722’ badges (two on the front wings, one by the gear selector) and – vitally – a modified engine-management map. This raises the supercharged, 5.5-litre AMG V8’s power from 617 to 641bhp and its torque from 575 to 605lb ft. And that puts 1mph on the top speed, making 209mph, and shaves 0.2sec from the 0-62mph time, now down to 3.6sec.
There’s a sense of menace about an Mercedes-Benz SLR when you press the starter button concealed under the gear selector’s flip-up lid. Those four side-exit exhausts harrumph and splutter, their aural explosiveness the greater for their proximity to your ears. The extra power and the 722’s 44kg weight loss help create an even bigger explosion on that first exploratory prod of the accelerator pedal, too, helped by a torque converter in the five-speed auto ’box that’s keen to lock up as quickly as it can.
Unlike most other Mercedes-Benzes, the Mercedes-Benze SLR has a proper manual mode for its transmission, which neither downshifts on throttle-flooring nor upshifts at the rev limit. You can select three different shift speeds for the sequential paddle-shifters, the fastest of which does a passable imitation of a Ferrari F1-shift, even if it isn’t quite as quick.
It’s not great at synchronising engine speed with road speed on a downshift, but unlike most autos it lets you apply your own meaningful throttle-blip to keep things smooth. There’s a lovely burst of supercharger whine as you do this. And, unlike a Ferrari-type robotised manual, the transmission is guaranteed to be smooth in automatic mode, even in the quicker-shifting sport setting. This is a good transmission, well matched to the engine’s bombastic torque.
It’s blazingly rapid and it can be a lot of fun, but the 722 makes no sense in a world that contains the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano. Not that this will matter to the 150 722 buyers. Anyway, there’s an SLR roadster on the way, so let’s hope the Big Mac finally gets it together then.
Mercedes-Benz SLR Black
Mercedes-Benz SLR Silver
Mercedes-Benz SLR Blue
Mercedes-Benz SLR White
Mercedes-Benz SLR Red
Mercedes-Benz SLR Yellow
Mercedes-Benz SLR Dark Green